As a person who is more aware of their health, you may come upon new methods for staying healthy and wonder if they will work. One of the newer health trends is the use of essential oils for health and cooking.
Essential oils are not necessarily “essential” for either human or plant life. They are not even technically “oils” as they lack any sort of fatty acids.1 Essential oils are instead highly concentrated plant components.
The term “essential” refers to the concentrated essence of the plant used.2 Use of essential oils is a rather ancient idea. The ancient Egyptians prized them for their health and beauty benefits, anointing themselves in the perfumed oils. Even healers during medieval times would treat sicknesses with botanical extracts.2,3 The benefits of essential oils, though, may go beyond just their smell. Today people are using essential oils in different ways for ailments ranging from stress to issues with skin or digestion.
The idea of essential oils helping with wellness isn’t too hard to believe when you think about the phytonutrients or phytochemicals that come from plants. These chemical compounds have a range of health benefits for the plants they come from and help the plants protect themselves from infection, temperature changes, heal from damage and repel pests.4 In fact, some of the most important and common pharmaceuticals have been created from plants. Examples include aspirin from willow bark, morphine from the poppy plant and cold and cough medications containing mint.4 Despite the studies showing the positive effects of essential oils for some health conditions, more research is still needed to see the range of possibilities.
Using Essential Oils
Essential oils are often used by applying a diluted version either directly to skin, through inhalation or used through a diffuser. It is not recommended to apply the oil in such a high concentration to your skin as it can cause irritation or a reaction. Therefore, essential oils should be diluted with water or with a carrier oil such as almond.1 The type of essential oil used is important too. It is a good practice to look for essential oils of high-quality, therapeutic-grade oil that is pure, medicinal and has been steam distilled.1 The type of essential oil you use can be important depending on how you want to use them.
Another way in which people gain the health benefits of essential oils is by ingesting them. Essential oils can add flavor to your cooking and baking. When used in cooking, essential oils are different from flavored extracts. An extract is made when the plant parts are cold-pressed before being soaked in a liquid like alcohol. Essential oils are created in a process that begins with distillation and usually requires a lot more plant material to make a small amount of oil.3 As long as they are labeled for internal use or ingestion, essential oils can be used in cooking anywhere you would consider using dried herbs, spices or juice. For example, a drop of cinnamon oil in coffee, a drop of lemon oil in tea or a drop ginger oil in baking as opposed to a tablespoon or two. Just remember that essentials oils are more concentrated so you will use less liquid to get the same flavor.3 Also, exposure to extreme heat can change the properties of essential oils.3 If you are worried about exposing them to too much heat, keep the heat at a lower level or add the essential oils afterwards.
Essential Oils and Health
People have also used essential oils in first aid. In experiments with livestock like poultry, research has shown that using essential oils instead of antibiotics not only help infections but can also prevent resistant bacteria from developing.4 Research using essential oils with humans are few and rare. In the United States, scientists have found that staph-infected wounds healed faster when they were treated with vapors of tea-tree oil than with other conventional methods.4 In December 2013, research also found that a hand gel made with lemongrass oil was effective in reducing MRSA on the skin of human volunteers.4 Within labs, scientists continue to test all kind of combinations of essential oils and antibiotics in the hopes of finding ways against resistant bacteria. They have found that the combinations can fight numerous pathogens, including antibiotic-resistant strains of E.coli and Staphylococcus aureus.4
Essential Oils and Warfarin
As a person on warfarin, it is important to be aware of how different treatments can affect your INR test result. In regards to certain essential oils, patients who are on blood thinners like warfarin should be aware of the different blood thinning essential oils. In most cases, ingestion is not recommended and topical use of the essential oil is considered safe.5 However, even inhalation can cause your blood to thin so using a bit of caution is always a good idea. Some common essential oils that can present the highest risk of thinning a patient’s blood include: Betula lenta (Birch, sweet), Allium sativum (garlic), Origanum onites (Oregano), Artemisia dracunculus (Tarragon) and Gaultheria fragrantissima (Wintergreen).5 Other essential oils that may inhibit blood clotting include: Illicium verum (Anise, star), Pimenta racemosa (Bay, West Indian), Cinnamomum verum or Cinnamomum zeylanicum (Cinnamon Bark or Leaf) and Syzygium aromaticum (Clove bud, leaf or stem).5
While there is still a lot of research needed about how essential oils can affect our health and well-being, it is always a good idea to speak with your physician regarding any aromatherapy or cooking you are doing with these oils. They may know more about certain essential oils in regards to their use and may even have health tips. Practicing a good INR testing schedule can also show whether or not including new essential oils into your routine will have any effect.
- 1. Coles, T. Benefits of Essential Oils: 10 Natural Ways to Heal Yourself. The Huffington Post Canada. July 2, 2014. Retrieved from the website: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/07/02/benefits-of-essential-oils_n_5536808.html.
- 2. Dayton, L. Sure, Essential Oils Smell Great But Are They Good for Anything Else? Los Angeles Times. January 16, 2016. Retrieved from the website: http://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-essential-oils-20160116-story.html.
- 3. Witwicki, A. Cooking with Essential Oils Can Pack a Flavor Punch. Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. January 17, 2017. Retrieved from the website: http://www.jsonline.com/story/life/food/2017/01/17/cooking-essential-oils-can-pack-flavor-punch/96457560/.
- 4. Rodriguez, T. Essential Oils Might Be the New Antibiotics. The Atlantic. January 16, 2015. Retrieved from the website: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/01/the-new-antibiotics-might-be-essential-oils/384247/.
- 5. Harris, L, CCA. Essential Oils Which Inhibit Blood Clotting. Using Essential Oils Safely. April 23, 2015. Retrieved from the website: http://www.usingeossafely.com/essential-oils-which-inhibit-blood-clotting/.